Where is the Climax in Hamlet?

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Some people say that in Hamlet the climax is the scene where Hamlet kills Claudius, others say that it is when Claudius confesses to God that he killed his brother...my teacher says it's when Hamlet changes his attitude (in Act IV) when he says,"...from this day forward may all my thoughts be bloody..." I am confused as to where it is so if amyone can answer me it would be greatly appreciated.

-- Steven (doughboyea@aol.com), January 12, 2000


You could say there are several different climaxes in the play but traditionally, it has always been Act III, Scene iii of all of Shakespeare's tragedies. So, in this case, it would be where Hamlet misses a great opportunity to kill Claudius at pray. Of course, Hamlet doesn't know what the audience knows about C's inability to confess so, there's a bit of tension there.

The problem I have with IV,iv being the climax is that the First Folio, that speech, and indeed most of that scene, is cut out, supposedly by Shakespeare. Obviously he didn't think it was important enough... I do think that it is an important turning point in Hamlet's state of mind, however. Without that scene, we are to assume that this "transformation" happened while he was at sea.

Good question!

-- Virginia (vleong@attglobal.net), January 13, 2000.

Climax. Well, Hamlet is so ... complete. Such an involved and involving play that I suspect it cannot be made to conform to a standard English Lit. 101 outline. Hamlet himself is so conflicted, however, that if I were to choose a turning point for the character, it would have to be "fall of a sparrow." Sure, he's killed people before that, but he is not ready to die for his cause until "Let be." Awfully late in a play to call it a climax, but it is the end of the antic disposition, the grieving, and the inability to act against Claudius. That acceptance of his own inevitable fate is what makes him a tragic hero rather than just a really well-developed character in a revenge play. Anybody else have an opinion?

-- mikken (mikken@neo.rr.com), January 13, 2000.

I didn't have an opinion on the climax of the play until I saw Branagh's film. Afterwards I consider the "thoughts be bloody" scene the climax for Hamlet's character because that's when he finally chooses a course of action. This is where the play really begins to follow the revenge plot to the conclusion. Most of the supporting players have been killed, thus streamlining the action. Perhaps Branagh's stirring reading of the speech influnced my choice. (But then who could fault me).

-- Brian Burkart (Burke724@aol.com), January 14, 2000.

It seems fair to conclude that there are many poignant scenes in this play, which are distributed quite generally throughout. The scenes referenced here are most assuredly very important but are they the 'climax', or perhaps 'turning points'? Probably the most significant scene for Hamlet as a 'person' and the true turning point for this tormented soul is the "fall of a sparrow" scene for the many reasons stated above. Though he once again voices the strength of his conviction to 'act' in the "How all occasions do inform against me" soliloquy, it is 'once again' that we hear this proclamation of will. True much has transpired since his last attempt at self- affirmation and he does use strong language here; that said, there is nothing in his forthcoming actions or words to confirm these verbal resolutions.

But if we are looking for the 'climax' of the play per se, the latter part of V. ii. draws us toward the common points of conclusion for most of the major themes that have been developed ("O, 'tis most sweet when in one line two (here more) crafts directly meet"). After the duel: Laertes has avenged his father's and his sister's deaths; Hamlet is absolved of the former; the queen's soul is set free in death (where does it go?); we actually learn of the deaths of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern (yeah!); poison, poison everywhere (which rounds out the poisoning of King Hamlet, that which has affected the death of so many). And finally the most significant themes are resolved: King Hamlet's 'uncertain term' is finally concluded; Fortenbras (the ominous subplot to all this) finally takes Elsinor and young Hamlet finally realizes his own death. Climax anyone?

Again, good question!

-- gkandia (gkandia@prodigy.net), January 22, 2000.

So many long answers, so little time I believe the final climax (yes, there's more than one) is the very final scene. Hamlet forgives Laertes for his actions, and vice versa. from then on out we have 2 men fighting to venge their father's death, hamlet for hamlet, laertes for claudeus. not soon after you have both men making peace with each other, and once again they forgive each other for both of thier deaths. i am not a shakespearian scholar, i just like his plays

Marc L

-- Marc Lowe (marc_lowe@dell.com), August 26, 2000.

Well, shall we say : Hamlet is a climax himself...Where is the future of a kingdom if the king is dead? It is destroyed with the death and everything goes downn.It is a natural selection theme and Darwin probably would agree. There is no a real climax. Everything has a destiny of self distraction and the history of the world is like that. After the final killing scenes , everything calms down ,like the time after wars.Kings and Order were the center of the normal function of the time and I suppose that much of that remained still.Love, Ivana from Serbia.

-- Ivana Jocic (ivanaj@bankerinter.net), February 28, 2001.

Hamlet's calling in life is to avenge his father's death. Killing Claudius might be a good marker for the climax. The play of Hamlet is so full of events after Hamlet receives his calling in life, it is hard to pin down a climax, just as in anybody else's life (as is you, me, etc.). Maybe Shakespeare did not intend a specific and obvious climax for that reason.

-- Natalie Weeks (gnatalie@netidea.com), June 13, 2001.

This is a question continuously debated, and totally unsettled by the literary body as a whole. These questions are part of the richness of shakespearian study. I generally aproach the subjact of climax as one which must begin with assumption. In the classic approach, if you take a main theme of the play to be that of action vs. inaction and a climax as when conflict comes to a head, then actIV sceneIV is the moment when Hamlet makes his choice. The conflict is resolved. After this point all that is left is action. In short I'm with your instructor on this.

-- Charlie Hughes (Charlie_Hughes@emerson.edu), September 21, 2001.

Although I can't provide more concrete an answer than is already here, i do know that a climax in a shakespearian play is often slightly different than in the more common literary works of today-- it is the "point of no return." In this case, it would most probably be in Act III, either when Hamlet decides against killing claudius, although this would be the wrong kind of no return for the play's eventual end, or, more likely, the killing of polonius, which is also, coincidentally, the point of most excitement so far. It sets in motion events that are nearly impossible to stop--such as Claudius's realization that Hamlet is a real threat to his life and his position, Hamlet's subsequent ejection from Denmark, and, essentially, the rest of the play.

-- Jason Preston (comsquare5@hotmail.com), October 01, 2001.

Don't you find the whole thing is one glorious bloody four-hour long climax? with each special line a climax within the climax. Sorry if that is cloying, but really I feel this play is the climax in the whole history of Eng Lit.

However. III.ii has my vote. It's close to the traditional III.ii; it is a point of no return in that H bears all to Claudius, so really has to see it through now before C manages to do away with him first; plus it has all the excitement, action, emotion and sheer adrenalin one expects at a climax, and with so many characters and themes coming together.

-- catherine england (catherineamer@hotmail.com), October 05, 2001.

Turning Point of the Play: Act III, scene ii, lines 263-288

King: Give me some light. Away!

If you refer back to Act I, you notice that there is a transfer in the description of light from that point to Act III. Hamlet in the first act says, "I am too much in the sun", meaning that he is the rightful son and heir to the throne. After watching The Mousetrap, Claudius says, "Give me some light. Away!" indicating that Denmark has become bleaker throughout these acts. This signifies a definite turning point. As the action progresses from that point to Ophelia’s death, things get even darker. It is only after viewing the king’s reaction to the play that Hamlet can accept the words of the Ghost of his Father and decides to take action against Claudius.

-- Erin (CinderellaMK@aol.com), November 13, 2001.

Just the fact that the subject of where the climax is in Hamlet is so debated goes to show that the play has a composition that simply does not rely on a clear-cut climax or turning point. Throughout the play, Hamlet becomes more and more certain of his course of action, yes, and perhaps some of this might be pinpointed to set places in the text.

In classical plays, everyone's lives were governed by fate, and the typical tragic flaw of the hero was not believing this to be so, and trying to act against the destiny already set out for him. Thus he was also trying to do the work of a god by attempting to alter his own fate, something the gods would always punish with death.

The classical climax was thus often point where the hero realises that his life is bound by a destiny laid out for him from the moment he was born, that he is helpless to change it, and that even through his attempts to escape his destiny, he is only making it come true (Oedipus Rex is a brilliant example of this).

Is there such a point in Hamlet? Are there several? Can the events of the entire play, and of the ending in particular, be said to have been predetermined from the start of the play, and the characters straining to avoid them only have caused them to come about?

Claudius more so than Hamlet seems to be bound by this kind of fate. His crime, killing not only a King, but also a brother, is one that even gods cannot forgive, and he knows he will get his punishment for it eventually.

After realising Hamlet is onto him, he knows this divine punishment will come sooner rather than later, but he does several things to avoid this: sending Hamlet to England, hoping to have him killed there, and, towards the end, the poisoned cup, the poisoned blade of Laertes. In fact, it is the posioned blade of Laertes and Claudius' poisoned cup that eventually makes it possible for Hamlet to kill him.

His realisation of what he actually has done, and the fate that shortly awaits him becomes apparent through his prayer, which marks a kind of classical climax for the character of Claudius. After that, he starts struggling more and more to get rid of Hamlet, and to save himself from his destiny.

For the Queen, her climax, her realisation of what she has done, comes at her meeting with Hamlet, and she rightfully does not seem very surprised upon realising she's been poisoned at the end (very well directed in the Branagh-version there).

For Laertes it is right before his death at the end of the swordplay contest that he realises the King has used him as a pawn in his attempt to escape fate.

And for Hamlet? I don't think he has one in the classical sense. He is after all a complex character, not just one of actions and words, (what seems), but also of the unseen mind (what is), but still Hamlet becomes another victim of Claudius' crime against the divine order.

-- Hakon Soreide (mail@hakonsoreide.com), December 29, 2001.

It is worth remembering that this is not a classical play, but an early modern English one, and that Shakespeare was more often interested in playing with and subverting classical models, rather than imitating them.

I think perhaps a point is that these characters do not have a traditional "tragic flaw". They are comples, Hamlet included, only to the extent that they are as thoroughly and deeply human as you, me, or the next person. Their good and bad, excellences and faults are commingled because every human is just such an alloy. It is true Hamlet speaks of a "vicious mole of nature", a "particular fault" which may corrupt and ruin an otherwise perfect person. But that is his classically influenced humanist university education talking through his own analytical brain. It is not what Shakespeare shows us in his characters.

Claudius may feel sick with fearful remorse after THE MOUSETRAP, so that he tries to pray, but he doesn't accept a fate. He remains a two-faced, scheming bastard until his last line, "O, yet defend me, friends. I am but hurt." He is striving to hold on to what he has on earth rather than avoid a divine fate.

Laertes' realization is worded in terms of "blame" of the king, not merely a heroic self-recognition.

I get the feeling that Gertrude has no time or ability to speak after she realizes she has been poisoned to do more than warn her beloved son about "the drink".

Besides, none of these is the hero. Hamlet is. He has come to accept an overarching divine plan by Act V; but I don't think we are shown the point where he does this, and for a reason. It is not to be considered the raison d'etre of the play. The degree of potency of man and his free will under the divine management of God was a major intellectual discourse in the Renaissance. HAMLET shows both at work very effectively. People make choices in their lives even though "There's a divinity that shapes [their] ends".

My climax vote is still for III.ii.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), January 01, 2002.

I would have to say that the point of no return is the death of Polonius. This is what starts the conclusion of the play. Ophelia goes crazy and dies, Hamlet is sent to England, Laertes seeks his revenge. With out the death of Polonius, Laertes would not return for revenge and their would be no sword fight at the end where everyone remaining dies.

-- Tanya (Tanya@hotmail.com), March 03, 2002.

The climax in Hamlet is most assuredly when he gets the players to perform the play and Claudius realizes who it is about when he sees the actor poor poisen into the other actors ear. This is the climax, no question asked because at this point, everything starts falling apart, it is the highest point in the play before everything goes downhill so it is most assuredly the only climax there is.

-- Layne (Foxydrea2003@aol.com), September 10, 2002.

Perhaps this question cannot be answered until this one is: What is the central conflict or moral issue or delimma for Hamlet? If the basic question is How and/or when to get revenge, then you might argue for a later scene, as when he finally kills the king. But if the central moral delimma centers around What is the right thing to do?, then you might argue for perhaps III, iii, when he admits to being convinced of the rightness of revenge and only stays his hand to get a "better" revenge or for III, iv, when he kills Polonius, thinking it was Claudius, for he now not only admits having decided what was right but also acts on it.

-- (aslyons@clearsource.net), October 28, 2002.

The climax cannot be at the moment Claudius stands during the play within-a-play. There are no indications in the script that he does anything other than stand and say "Give me some light. Away!" It is most often played as though Claudius is confessing here, but that is only an interpretation. (The interpretation in the Braunagh version is very interesting. In it, Claudius only feigns insult. This is entirely in character for such a saavy politican. After all, this is a man who is willing to trade his soul for "my crown, mine own ambition, and my queen." ) This is the reason we need the scene in the chapel in which Claudius confesses--otherwise there is still no objective proof that the ghost is "honest."

-- M. Levinson (drlev@pacbell.net), December 13, 2002.

Hmm, hmm ... well, I've read over what I wrote before: can't spell 'bares', can't count my 'i's', but at least the computer dots them for me. But I still agree with what I wrote. No, I don't think it's that particular point in III.ii either, but the whole play-in-play sequence, where everything gets chucked into the open at last, and comes together. Exciting stuff.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), December 13, 2002.

I think the climax comes during act three (like most of shakespears plays) when Hamlet gets the proof that C killes his father after the dumb show. Good question though, most my drama A-Level rests on this play!

-- Tom Harding (tprh@hotmail.com), January 06, 2003.

i think the play is realy trying to cover the subject of "how to take action" a sort of therory that our lives are built on what we dont think about than what we do, that our lives are laid out by what we cant controll;our subconsiuos. this is because hamlet constantly procrastinates through out the play as a result of him thinking things through far to much(in the early silliliques he can be seen to tottaly contridict the start of one, by the end of it) . however, when the famous lines "to be,or not to be"etc, he finally decides a course of action that will result in somthing he cannot change, is cladious is to act guilty he will HAVE to kill him and if he doesnt vica versa.thats is my opinion, that those lines "to be, or not to be" are not the most famous shakespearian lines for nothing.

-- Huege Whang (clanger_dragonsoup@hotmail.com), March 21, 2004.

In Act III, scene 1, where the "To be, or not to be" speech occurs, Hamlet poses a number of questions, but has no anwers. I don't think this resolves anything, and therefore cannot be the climax, as the earlier poster suggests. I agree with those who say that the climax is Act III, scene 3, because at this point both the audience and Hamlet know that Claudius is guilty, and, more importantly, Hamlet is ready to do something about it, because he enters the scene "with sword drawn". This is the first time he was ready to commit to action. This climax implies that the point of attack, the start of rising action earlier in the play, was in Act I, Scene 5, when Hamlet swears to remember the ghost of his father (note that he does not swear revenge, but merely to remember the ghost). The central question, then, is: what is he going to do about what he remembers? This is resolved at the climax when he enters with drawn sword, indicating that he is finally ready to take action to kill Claudius, and indeed take revenge, although he does not actually do so at that time, because he thinks it will go worse for Claudius if he kills him when he does not look remorseful.

-- Ed Ellesson (ellesson@mindspring.com), June 02, 2004.

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